Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, Sandha Khin
Directorial debuts, as the word describes, serves as the first outing of a director and in most cases do not display the filmmaker’s finest work. If anything, it provides good insight as to what interests them and typically contains kernels of what the filmmaker will ultimately display at the height of their powers. This certainly becomes the case for Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench and what it represents in the filmography of Damien Chazelle. Rough to watch at certain points but several bright spots to dig into.
Within the city of Boston, a couple of three months, Guy (Jason Palmer) and Madeleine (Desiree Garcia) both carry different ambitions in their life at such young ages. They struggle to find the commonalities between them as what they want begins to pull them apart. However, something they have bonding them continually brings them back together.
Sitting through Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench certainly felt like Chazelle’s trial run for what he would later create in the masterful La La Land as the story focuses on two individuals with passions in the arts both colliding in a major United States city. Certainly rough in parts, this film displays a rocky road in regard to quality, seeing as aspects of the music truly stick out while the narrative lacks any real flow. For something running for about 84 minutes, the story feels far too long for the runtime it has. Saying this for a film just barely over an hour certainly indicates some fairly poor pacing and perhaps not enough substance in order to fill out being a feature-length film.
The greatest aspect certainly comes from the music where Chazelle makes it really clear right from the beginning how much he loves jazz music. It has been an integral part of three of his four movies at the time of this review. The man certainly has a passion and the score provided by his collaborator Justin Hurwitz certainly came to play. With this feature being a musical, the work Hurwitz puts in shows what wonderful greatness these two will continue to put together. It brings the potency of jazz music, but unfortunately, it does not have the narrative to match it.
Additionally, the dance sequences contained quite a bit of vibrancy to create some semblance of entertainment in the feature. It demonstrates more of what will be captured in the 2016 film where he perfected it all. Feeling a bit amateurish at times, it does have quite the energy to it as one could expect with a film of this kind of budget. These sequences do not have this grandiose sense of place but rather a more intimate appeal for what the song and dance numbers provide to the narrative as a whole.
At a narrative level, this feature focuses on the relationship of the two titular characters, and with it comes quite the mixed bag of results. What drives issues between them remains explicitly clear as the film carries on but none of it really brings any intrigue. It fails to make the characters compelling in their pursuits leaving the musical sequences to do all of the heavy lifting as a result. This falls right on Chazelle as his writing could not really flesh out these characters into being more than just what they want in life. Madeleine has her introversion, but nothing else really gets expanded upon, which makes her a deeper and more interesting character to follow.
Just like with Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire or Edgar Wright’s A Fistful of Fingers, great directors are not defined by their first feature film. Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench does just enough to be a mixed bag and a decent start for Damien Chazelle. With the acting, set design, and other aspects of quality lacking overall, the different nuggets found throughout the production show the man who will create incredible films shortly after. This remains a film only worth checking out if you want to be a Damien Chazelle or Justin Hurwitz completionist as this project as a whole feels like a practice trial run, which in the end I cannot look down upon. However, it still does not make for a good film.